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Newsletter #20

Hello lovely people! It feels like we're fast approaching melting point in this heat, so apologies that this newsletter is arriving in your inbox a little later than usual. We fear we're now partially liquid. Of course, we all know the temperature necessary for books to catch flame is around 232°C (thanks Google). Rest assured that all of the wonderful new releases and recommendations we have for you in this edition shall be safe and sound in the shop. Meanwhile, the flesh-and-blood occupants huddle beneath the wonderful, blessed air conditioning.

New this week


We're kicking things off with a trio of boldly feminist takes on historical fiction! Shelley Parker-Chan's She Who Became The Sun tells the story of an unnamed girl, orphaned by bandits in 14th century Mongol-ruled China, and her hardscrabble rise to power having assumed her dead brother’s identity. Pitched as a cross between Mulan and shop favourite The Song of Achilles, it's a brutal-yet-enthralling epic concealing a surprisingly tender queer love story at its heart.

New in paperback, 
The Voyage of Freydis is Tamara Goranson's engaging and propulsive retelling of the Vinland saga, centring the oft-overlooked Freydis Eiriksdottir, first and only woman to lead a Viking voyage across the Atlantic. In Daughters of Sparta, scholar and Only Connect contestant Claire Heywood applies a similarly lens to the myth Greek figures of Helen of Troy and her sister Klytemnestra, recast here as battle-weary figures raging against an oppressively patriarchal society.

Alix Nathan's follow-up to the brilliantly odd The Warlow Experiment is the similarly peculiar Sea Change, an historical novel set in Regency-period England which follows the parallel narratives of a young woman orphaned by a hot air balloon accident, and a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a Norfolk fishing village. New in paperback is Nguyen Phan Que Mai's The Mountains Sing, which follows the story of Vietnam in the last century through the trials and tribulations of one family in intimate, heartbreaking detail.

Also out in paperback is Alex Pheby's tremendously inventive, sprawling
Mordew, a sort of magical realist take on the Dickensian novel, with a cast of characters including a talking dog and a mysterious sorcerer who claims to gain his powers from feasting on the corpse of God. The first in a new trilogy, we recommend you get on board from the start (if you can keep up) (and stomach it).
Moving onto non-fiction, we heartily recommend Natasha Lunn's Conversations on Love, a collection of interviews the journalist conducted on all matters of the heart with all manner of experts on the subject. It includes such marquee names as Philippa Perry on falling in love slowly, Candice Carty-Williams on friendship, and Roxane Gay on redefining romance. A wonderful and necessary set of reflections on how we approach connection and intimacy in a world where many have been unable to pursue it for a good long while!

Travel bloggers Yaya Onalaja-Aliu and Lloyd Griffiths have put together a gorgeous staycation guide in the form of Hand Luggage Only: Great Britain, a handbook to the best coastal walks, landmarks and road trips in England, Scotland and Wales which includes some stunning accompanying photography. With that in mind, if you're looking for a good beach read and are of a certain age, Will Sergeant's Bunnyman is a disarmingly frank memoir of his life as guitarist in Echo & the Bunnymen and the post-punk Liverpool scene they emerged from.
An idea so inspired it beggars belief nobody thought of it before, Anne Willan's Women in the Kitchen chronicles the lives and careers of a dozen cookbook writers — from Hannah Woolley in the mid-1600s through to Julia Child — and the impact they had on our culinary lives. In the incredible Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman follows the history of the Atlantic slave trade by taking the same journey from Ghana as many of her lost ancestors were forced along. A wholly original approach to a difficult subject, this a uniquely moving blend of politics, history and travelogue.

Written pre-COVID (and, honestly, they would've given Camus and Defoe a run for their money if they'd released it at the start of lockdown), Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley's Until Proven Safe nonetheless has something to teach us about what we've got to look forward to through their provocative history (and speculations as to the future) of quarantines, from the crumbling lazarettos of the Mediterranean to the NASA scientists protecting Earth from extraterrestrial contagion.
This week in children's fiction we bid adieu to one of our favourite investigation teams, as Katherine Woodfine is wrapping up her Taylor & Rose: Secret Agents series with the newly-released fourth instalment, Nightfall in New York. The dynamic duo set sail to the Big Apple on an elegant ocean liner, but their trip is anything but a holiday, as they race against time to rescue a beloved friend. A fabulous whodunnit for fans of the Murder Most Unladylike books!

Meanwhile for younger readers, Jo Simmons and illustrator Nathan Reed return to the finely-sharpened silliness they displayed in I Swapped My Brother on the Internet with its follow-up, I Lost My Granny in the Supermarket. We trust that you can ascertain the plot from that Ronseal title! Similarly imaginative but significantly sweeter is Kate Wilkinson and Joe Berger's Edie and the Box of Flits, a compelling contemporary fairy tale following an 11-year-old girl who finds a magical box of winged people — who, naturally, only children can see — on the tube.
We've a trio of terrific activity books for you as well, beginning with shop stalwart Rob Biddulph's latest Draw With Rob title, Monster Madness, a bonafide internet phenomenon-turned-guidebook to drawing all manner of colourful creatures from the award-winning children's illustrator. We also have holiday boredom-buster Knight Sir Louis and the Kingdom of Puzzles from the Brothers McLeod, a boisterously funny chapter/activity book combo where children are encouraged to help the titular knight escape the eponymous kingdom by solving mazes, drawing comics and cooking recipes.

We're mightily impressed by Philip Steele's Escape the Mummy's Tomb, which likewise combines a story, a sarcophagus-ful of amazing facts about the Ancient Egyptains and an engaging story with this "escape room in the form of a book"! It's the inventive and informative puzzles which really make this one.
Having already done a bang-up job with the Bard and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Laurence King have turned their discerning eyes to The World of Jane Austen for their latest 1,000 piece jigsaw. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a household stuck inside on a rainy (or boiling) Sunday afternoon could do a lot worse than piecing this puzzle together while identifying as many of the Bennet clan as they can.

What we're reading

  • Anya is halfway through Anna Neima's The Utopians, an inspirational tour through six attempts to build a perfect society, full of eccentric larger-than-life characters and big ideas
  • Paul is enjoying Lucy Ellmann's Things Are Against Us, an excellently exasperated collection of rants regarding the state (and decay) of our patriarchal western societies
  • Josh wholeheartedly recommends The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, a disturbing, blackly comic diamond of a novel with a humid, claustrophobic atmosphere and a brilliant group of child-rearing, kitchen-cleaning, gossiping heroines
Tell you what, it's not half difficult to type while you're holding a 99 in one hand (and don't get us started on how far the price of these things has drifted from that ever-misleading name). We hope you're all staying hydrated, are covering yourselves in sun tan lotion, and (most importantly) have plenty to read while you're catching some rays. If not, well, we could help you with the latter! Until next tme, opening and ordering info is below as always, and take care of yourselves!
We are open for browsing 10-6 Monday to Saturday, and 11-5 on Sunday. You can also email or call (020 7249 2808) to place an order, then pick up your items from the shop. If you're unable to get to the shop for any reason, you can order books to be delivered to you through our friends at Bookshop.org (and we receive a decent commission!)
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